So you want an internet of things strategy?

I’ve been giving talks and having lots of meetings with executives across a number of different industries who are interested in the internet of things and aren’t quite sure what to do. Based on the past ten years of my work around this topic, here are some high-level recommendations.

Assumptions: chances are you have a research department or the product arm of your business is changing because your industry is changing. Latching on to the internet of things, AR/VR, cloud and digital is likely to help you solve some problems but not all. Chances are you need a change of culture and a change of senior management. This article is specifically for your business if you’ve decided to commit to #iot as a topic area and are ready to commit to it for a minimum of 3 years.

  1. Think about legacy

Staff turn-around in technical teams can be high (especially if they’re young) and chances are you’ll be recruiting web developers, creative technologists, industrial designers and electronics engineer as part of a good team that can prototype new connected product ideas for your business. These teams, when they work well are self-sufficient and therefore a culture of quick iterative prototypes is developed. This culture clashes with the need for comprehensive documentation of each idea. Successful high resolution prototypes are one thing but the interesting little prototypes that lead you there are just as important. Making sure code, circuitboard diagrams, BoMs and demo videos are available is important to make sure someone in Marketing or the next technical lead can understand a development process.

  1. Know your history and your landscape

You are joining a rich ecology of startups, government programs, tools and standards groups. You’re not doing this on your own so you better get used to collaborating with others that may have competing interests but are much smaller than you and have developed better tools. It takes a particular type of humility but what you’ll get out of it will stand out from what’s being done by your industry. The point of the internet of things is the breakdown of industry silos. The trick here is to grow a circle of ‘care’ so work with people in a way that opens up your abilities and your contacts so they can do the same. That’s why it’s the internet of things and not the intranet of things. People expect APIs for your services and the open mind to go with it.

  1. Help users get literate

In light of the recent splat of press about the internet of things and security we have to work as an industry to give people the tools to know what they should do. We struggle to do this online already and when things are added to the mix of course it complexifies things a lot, but the opportunity here is for a decent amount of time spent with end-users, not just ‘personas’ who are so loved by some design thinkers. There’s nothing like giving people something to live with for a while (be it either at home or at work) to get great feedback and highlight opportunities. It’s not with post-its, it’s not with ideas, it’s with functional high resolution prototypes that you’ll have to invest in fabrication. This means spending months (a long-term trial of the average social robot is 3 months) with customers finding out how your product fits. Only then will you have something that can change people’s lives (at work or at home!) and only then can you help them understand the risks best.

  1. Be patient

Don’t assume you’ll be able to create value for your organisation quickly, getting teams to work together and have good ideas they can prototype and iterate (takes ages to order parts) and then getting something that’s unique enough to showcase once a year at CES means that to get noticed and the right partners on board long term you’ll have to do this for some years. You’ll learn a lot and try to trust your team to work slowly but steadily. It’s difficult when you’re probably tied to whatever you can do within a financial quarter but if you want to change your business, that’s the price to pay. Try not to change innovation managers too often that’s really disruptive to the process and technical teams and jeopardises progress. Also give them a good budget, they have to buy machinery and parts! :)

Good luck!

 

Five minutes on smart cities

Introduction given at ESOF16 on July 25th in Manchester.

I’ve been working with Nominet R&D for the past year looking at the progress of over 140 global smart city projects and I wanted to take advantage of my five minutes here to talk talk about what I see are the future challenges of smart cities in a rapidly degrading economic and political global landscape.

Most smart city projects have usually taken a technology-first approach and relied heavily on government and EU funding. After a panel debate I organised last week on Brexit at the meetup, it’s safe to assume we will lose large parts of that funding as EU money disappears and the UK government aims to patch that up with existing funds.

With this, we, strangely, may return to David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ message: we will have to get a lot of things done ourselves and own up, as citizens to not only our rights, but our responsibilities in building a future society which is becoming technologically more literate (thanks to Facebook, Pokemon Go and other accessible, comprehensive platforms) but cash-poor. We, I think, owe it to help groups of people find their voice in a world of global market economics.

I’ve been working on a project called Made Near You to help food producers across the UK build a minimal viable digital presence, make themselves findable by tourists and newcomers who move to the country from big cities when they have kids.

It’s not that it’s addressing a complex city problem, but it may help small businesses around the country to participate in these data-laden economies they perhaps haven’t connected to previously.

I’m also interested in championing bottom-up projects such as the Air Quality Egg, the Smart Citizen kit, Buffalo Grid and the Oxford Flood Network. Projects which have very small teams who are under-funded because they address complex problems associated with climate change. But we will not be able to rely on our national and local governments to do ‘the right thing’.

The answer for some, may lie in distancing themselves from the problems of local economies, that is the privilege of the few however.

For the rest of us will have to support these products ourselves. That will become the new normal, the new meaning of smart citizenship, whatever country we may be citizen of on paper.

Open letter to AIGA

Hello!

Sorry for reaching out unexpectedly, but I’d like to bring something to your attention. I am not a member of AIGA but a professional product and interaction designer and I have been working for over 10 years under designswarm.com as both my company’s URL, digital presence on social media of all sorts, talks internationally, works displayed in museums (MoMa, V&A) and galleries.
So it’s with great disappointment that I see your organisation didn’t bother to do a simple google search to check whether the use of designswarm (for your design swarm events)  would create a conflict with any other companies. The fact that I am a designer makes it doubly insulting. The fact that I reached out on social media to both the organisation’s main account and Seattle accounts with no response whatsoever is even worse.
In any case one would have thought a creative organisation such as yours would have at least reached out to ask, or you know, come up with something different.
I hope you understand my frustration and hope to hear from you soon on this matter. I can be reached at alex at designswarm dot com
Best,
Alex

Made Near You: making local food businesses shareable & transparent

designswarm_madenearyou_map

So to conclude (rather dramatically) last week, here are some notes on what I ended up showcasing at the end of the Mozilla Open IOT Design Sprint in Anstruther, Scotland.

Made Near You (MaNY) is a service which allows food producers who want to encourage local communities and tourists to eat and buy local.

A form allows a food producer (farmer, chocolatier, condiment producer, they all count) would put in their details and link to their e-commerce shop if they have one.

designswarm_madeneayou_web

This would allow hotels to print out a map of local food businesses for visitors or local people to look up a post code and see what is around them.

designswarm_madenearyou_web2

This may lead down the line (this is a bit more of a stretch) to more visual and transparent conversations about the origins of food. Many packages already include where meat is being slaughtered but they are not obliged to share the city, so it ends up saying ‘UK’ which is hardly useful. A more visual map-based way of labelling makes people think about building facilities near them and create business opportunities everywhere.

designswarm_tenmilesaway_foodlabels

 

Finally this is obviously a service that is easy to internationalise and offer local versions for while keeping translation front of mind. It’s usually when we travel abroad and use our money to help other people’s economies that we are most keen to buy locally. We are, regardless of the brexit vote, one world.

Hopefully an idea is interesting enough to move forward, and if you’re interested in a conversation, do get in touch at alex at designswarm dot com

 

designswarm_10milesaway_local

 

 

Day 3 of Mozilla OpenIOT DesignSprint

mapsdataexport-2016-06-22Not a particularly productive day (I may be nursing a cold) today but lots of thinking about what we know, what we don’t know and what we choose to ignore.

It turns out for example that there isn’t any regulation on what distance is required for you to be able to use the term ‘local’on your packaging. Waitrose decided on 30 miles. In the US you can go up to 640km to call something ‘local’ or ‘regional’.

This also made me think about the distance itself. Where a cow is raised for example isn’t where it will be killed but will probably be where it will be butchered. When the farm gets the pieces back it isn’t even sure that it comes from the animals that were sent in. Often the labour is cheap and untrained so bits like the pigs cheeks don’t ever come back to the farmer even if they are highly desirable by cooks in local kitchens. The meat will then travel to the consumer. So is the food mile considering that whole trip? I’m not sure.

I also thought I’d map out the UK’s official slaughterhouses that deal with cows, pigs, horses and deer (ungulates). Not many around London obviously. But also not many period considering we’re feeding over 65M people.

I was also reminded of the BBC Radio 4 show on EL Shumacher an economics thinker and philosopher in the 70s. There’s a college in the UK that takes his philosophy into practice and there’s a lovely sounding sustainable food workshop next month. I wish I could attend.

I think for this Friday I’d like to think about what we’d do if we knew how far away things had to travel to get to us. Would we be surprised about it? Would we spend more / less? Would it make any difference?

This may take the shape of a little ‘low carbon market’.

Day 2 of Mozilla Open IOT Design Sprint: Farmnet

IMG_0161

I’m in Anstruther (a small fishing village in Fife, Scotland) this week taking part in the second Mozilla Open IOT Studio design sprint. The whole week is organised by Michelle Thorne, the studio director and Jon Rogers who lives in the area. We’re working from an old church adjacent to a graveyard and there’s 40 of us working on bringing the internet of things to a rural town.

I was offered to jump into a farming community brief and as I’ve had the pleasure of working with Wintec over the last years, this seemed like an obvious space to be.  We visited the estate of the 14th Baronet of Anstruther who manages lots of land, rents it out to farmers, has converted old farming buildings into hipster-friendly work spaces and is going organic. Not quite your average farmer but it was nice to get close to the action.

IMG_0143

One of the first things he told us yesterday morning when we interviewed him was that Tesco and others fake farm names for their brand own labels.

Despite the British sounding names, the “farms” do not exist and the produce is often sourced from abroad.

I’d imagine that this is because there is no such thing as a public farm registry. If you apply to become a farm, it’s information that stays with the government but not something you’d put on a label. Provenance is important in helping consumers make decisions about the food they eat. It’s not just an administrative imperative, it’s a conversation between producers, wholesalers, retailers, restaurants and consumers. Especially when it can kill you if you have allergies. It makes me think that just like we need advocacy around labelling for #iot products, we certainly need it for British-farmed produce.

So I’m developing a very early idea I’m calling Farmnet, which is an open registry for farms which they can use on labelling of their products.

designswarm_farmnet_mince

I imagine this to be a space where you can check where that farm is based, if it’s organic or not, if it has an online shop should you want to buy directly from them and what it also sells (many farms have lots of different crops).

This was also after realising there are lots of different organisations around farming, but no publicly accessible database. Even doing a bit of digging around I found more local businesses by Googling my way around the web than one of the many official sites Farmafarma_map_anstruther

My map.

anstruther_mymap_zoomedin

The other reason to have a database is give people an excuse to add to it. Many local farm shops do have an online presence if you know their name already. For many that presence is minimal, the bigger the town, the more likely they are to have an online shop and a responsive website. For many they would rely on local trade and relationships that continue to support a highly seasonal business structure. I was told by

Food for everyone.

Anstruther has many care homes and retired people, making sure they can have access to great local food and not just shop/supermarket bought goods because they can no longer drive is pretty important to the life and health of the town and local economy. There may be a future argument for local food to be cheaper for local people, a kind of local subsidy to encourage farmers to start farmer’s markets very very locally.

Anyway, some thoughts on day 2. If you’d like to give me some feedback or want to talk about this, please drop me a line at alex at designswarm dot com.

On the potential

(Talk given on March 11th in India at the BusinessWorld IOT Expo.)

I’ve had a lot of friends join large organisations as employees. One of the reasons they cite is often ‘there’s so much potential’ because the brand / business is large, important or global. I always grin.

Since the world of business and technology started taking the internet of things seriously (the Google acquisition of Nest in Jan 2014) it’s very easy to get excited but also complacent about ‘the potential’. We think we can see the potential by extrapolating how we have worked in the past, a convenient future for ourselves.

We think the internet of things sounds like a good idea because in the world of business and technology, we know things (industrial assets, infrastructure, consumer goods) and we also know the internet (infrastructure & services). So we think that the internet of things sounds like a mashup of the two. Like all you have to do is stick the internet on ‘it’. Whatever ‘it’ might be. Indiscriminately and immediately. Bring the two worlds together seamlessly.

I think the reality is far more difficult, and the so-called ’potential’ very different than what we might initially imagine.

Just as a single employee has to reconcile eventually that whatever the potential of their specific role is, they are one of a great many moving pieces, that they may have competing interests to their team and that their team is controlled by budgets that they don’t have control over. So for the internet of things. Noone is an island in the internet of things. Noone has control of the whole equation and furthermore the dependancies are different than the ones we’re used to. Here are some things we will need to get used to when we think about the potential:

Working across industries, divisions and size.

I just co-curated the Bosch ConnectedExperience which took place this week. An event almost 8 months in the making, this was the opportunity for a smaller division of Bosch namely Bosch Software Innovations to bring people across their entire business to the internet of things table. I helped organise a conference track exposing attendees to the wide landscape of the internet of things and different business units offered free and confidential clinics to attendees no matter what their industry, product or idea. Then 4 business units (cars, power tools, sensors and manufacturing divisions) offered a first taste of their developer-facing tools to a group of attendees. No NDAs, open, sometimes even open source. I would have liked to see more business units get involved across the Bosch business, but it was a strong start. A team formed of a UK-based academic and independant software engineers from Switzerland and Germany who had never worked together and only met that day, within a half a day, figured out how to address a small screen on an industrial screwdriver, a component that Bosch buys from outside the business and didn’t have much information on. Suddenly this small screen became a platform for communication to workers as they perform their task. This is the perfect example of what I call ‘lateral work’. It is about a business having the humility to admit that the best ideas in a world of connected experiences may come from an ad-hoc group of people who don’t even work for them. This is hard, and requires an open and collaborative approach to innovation. It requires a business and its stakeholder to have the humility to seek relationships with a world-wide developer community that won’t want to interact with a large business in traditional ways. That’s the potential.

21st century citizenship and city management

When we talk about the potential of the internet of things, the word things often points the imagination towards consumer goods. Things we have in our homes. But the potential sometimes sits with things that are perhaps a little outside of our homes, things that may bring about the city services of the future. A radical change to public utility and what public good looks like. A new sense of citizenship. Bridges that let us know if there’s a flood coming,  an outdoor air quality sensor we might attach to our balcony, a connected geiger counter we might wear, the ability to charge and access the web from a box that has a solar panel, ordering a tractor on demand, these are all products proposed by startups around the world which challenge the way our city officials engage with us and technology contracts. The potential lies, for India perhaps, in being able to take advantage of its historical independant and entrepreneurial spirit to allow a new relationship with its citizens to grow, using new technologies to educate city stakeholders and locally manufacturing the hardware for eg. India can be a model for the world. That’s the potential.

Making the internet of things for everyone

I hate the word niche, it often implies “not middle class white 20 year old men living in California’. That leaves behind a lot of people. Niche can be great for the internet of things. Starting a small company that sells to thousands of customers is what the world is filled with, it’s called the high street and the markets of our cities. Wouldn’t it be terrific to imagine what the internet of things can do for those high street vendors? How many interesting products could be created because they help solve a hyper-local problem with cheap hardware and cheap-ish connectivity?

The Arduino and Raspberry Pi, 2 open source education platforms, have helped people make 1 to 10 of something, but making even just 500 a quarter of something is still very difficult in some parts of the world and incredibly costly. Many incbuators and accelerators immediately think of China when looking to manufacture products but the minimum orders are so high and the linguisitic barrier discourages many. This could clearly be a win for India if its industry is alined and ready to cater to hundreds of something being made for startups worldwide.

The hidden potential of open source

In September 2012 I helped organise the Open IOT Assembly in London. Attendees from all over the world came up with a series of principles which still now feel aspirational. It was called the Open Internet of Things Definition. I don’t know what the state of conversation around openess in India but we can’t talk about standards and interoperability without wondering if we’re not replicating old industrial conversations. Openess as a general principle can allow lots of interesting interactions between companies and their customers. Openess also implies taking responsability and being transparent about how complex systems are built and in an era where we’re not entirely sure where the meat we eat at the local mcdonalds comes from, well there’s a lot of work still to do. We also can’t shy away from wondering what happens to the hardware we deploy when it breaks down or sits there unused. I’m sure Fitbit know exactly how many of us have stopped exercising. Others are taking these principles of openness on around the world and the closed systems of sensor networks and infrastructure are bound to keep an eye on these new initiaties and look for success stories. That’s the potential again, the ability for someone more nimble to change the mind of someone who isn’t. And that, ultimately is exciting for everyone. Big or small. In India or in Indiana.

Anybody Home? Where did design dissapear off to?

Here is the transcript for my talk at IXDA in Helsinki on March 2nd.

Il faut confronter les idées vagues avec des images claires. – Jean-Luc Godard

I want to talk about the areas that were abandoned by design and designers and why they are worth rediscovering.

Hello. On good days I describe myself an industrial designer & an interaction designer. This is what I was trained as and that’s what my degree certificates would say for all the world to see if I ever bothered to frame and hang them. On bad days I say that I’m an internet of things designer. This means nothing to most of the people, I say it because it feels clearer to me than what industrial or interaction design stands for within the internet of things community that has grown worldwide over the last five years.

Making not Designing

Between 2007 and 2010 I was CEO and Co-Founder of Tinker.it later renamed Tinker London, the first UK distributor of the Arduino boards. At the time I was fresh off an interaction design course where I had come up with the Good Night Lamp. Gillian Crampton Smith who is sitting in the room is responsible for this and I would like to thank her for that. We helped promote the use of the Arduino to computer science students. flash developers, web developers, jewellerers, graphic designers and researchers. We ran workshops around the world for the public and for clients. People never thought of the Arduino as supporting a design effort, but it should have been. It should have been the tool that industrial designers would learn about and design higher resolution prototypes so they could own more of the design pie in a project. So that they could stop complaining that people came to them at the last minute with crappy products people just wanted to pretty up. So that they could quit their day jobs and start product companies everywhere. But that wasn’t to be. The Arduino became about other things, about ’making’, about open source, about empowerment, about knowledge barriers were being broken. Not about design. It featured the story of a web developer who had grown a little tired of screens could pick up some electronics skills easily and ‘make something’. Making and designing became separate activities.

A growing community of non-designers designing 

Our workshops always attracted more technically savvy  people than industrial designers, architects, graphic designers or UX designers. The timing was terrible of course, as the Arduino came out the iPhone was launched so UX designers left the table and went to distract themselves with smaller screens. And the industrial designers didn’t engage much at all, preferring to design things for others however frustrating that was than to spend a bit of time understanding how to code and engage with designing electronics. Knowing how to prototype electronics is still not as prevalent as knowing how to draw 10 years on, because we still see more value in someone being able to draw us a scenario of someone using a connected object than build us a prototype to figure out how an interaction feels with the constraints of connectivity and technology. Because oh my god are there constraints. And if you’d prototyped with the technology you’d end up really understanding that making lights switch on and off from around the world seems easy but turns out to be incredibly difficult.

Technical founders, not designers

So between the iPhone and Nest being acquired in early 2014, the internet of things grew slowly and with minimal design community engagement. It’s almost as if designers were waiting to be called up to the table. Design courses might run one or two introductory Arduino classes but nothing that stuck to a designer’s head and more importantly to their fingers. In London, the founders of internet-connected startups have continued to come from technically-savvy professions or graduate program: engineering, electronics engineering, computer science, industrial automation, military applications, sometimes (rarely) advertising. All of them were told about designing for users and user-centric design, but they were not told how. They weren’t even told that design and user-centered research are one and the same. I co-ran a workshop with Dott studio yesterday in London where we invited internet of things startups to come and share their process from coming up with an idea to whatever stage they were at. They were all able to articulate their process and the reasoning behind business decisions, but design was almost completely absent in the first 6 months of development. It was all about the prototyping and testing. No questioning of the ‘why’ not paper prototyping, not user interviews, no personas, nothing.  At best agile software development processes were attempted inside of a mashup of other processes. Forget the double diamond, this was more like the spaghetti plate. And these are the bravest people, they quit their day job, are wrestling to find funding, join incubators, spend a LOT of time on their ideas, but don’t work with designers from the word go. This is crazy when you consider that in London we now have 11 iot meetups and that cities like Prague attracted hundreds of people at its first iot meetup a few months ago.

Screens that hide a world of design opportunities

So if designers aren’t working with startups, maybe they’re working with corporations. But then it’s 2016 and Samsung have released a smart fridge which they call the Home Hub. I had to check my watch to make sure I hadn’t been sent back to the 1950s. Home. Hub. Who spends enough time in the kitchen to think that it is the be all and end all of their home life? 1950s housewives. Noone else. I don’t know a single woman who would have the money to buy this fridge and would spend any time at all in her kitchen. Maybe out of guilt of buying a Home Hub for a while. Where were the designers when this was manufacturered?

Designers go around the world and talk about user-centered design with anger because we don’t understand why people could create such horrors. But that’s because they never showed  in the first place. They didn’t want to become middle managers, then proper managers, they wanted to stay close to the craft of design. So that’s what happens when you dissapear inside a company, when you stop inspiring people about what you do and what values you bring. People design fridges with screens on them because we never told them not to. Designers weren’t important enough, the technologists were.

Designers were given the job of designing the screen’s user experience. Noone stepped up and said: maybe we should rethinking shopping interactions, not the fucking fridge. Not the end point of interaction. But that’s the trouble of the internet of things, there are too many touch points that need designing so we start with the easiest: the screen.

Exciting, shiny screens! Nevermind the systems and the injustice they enable. Screens can be designed! Interactions can be designed. Some interactions.  People’s micro-interactions can be observed without building a physical object, without seeing how quickly they throw your product in the bin or stop using it. Big data up to a point.

Changes can be made on the fly (sortof). Oh the flexibility, oh the addictiveness. Oh the design possibilities. But not for the dying or the bed-ridden. For the middle class who watched a bit too much Downton Abbey. For people who would never want to have an au pair or a cleaner full time living at home, but still want access to those ‘services’. So we designed the glossy touch point of the so-called the sharing economy. The economy of job insecurity, exploitation, property bubble, car-obsession and people who are always hungry but can’t cook. We buy crappy furniture off eBay, we leave the seal on our mobile phones so we can sell them on eBay. We get delivery from our favorite restaurants, we stopped going to hotels, we started renting out our apartment to pay for our retirement or our holidays. We went from designing interiors like they really mattered, like people were going to judge us if our napkins didn’t match our plates, to designing our digital wallpapers. Design now allows us to create social value elsewhere, so why bother with interiors and communities.  So we engage less with our local community or our local councils. We become the high class citizens of nowhere in particular. High-class migrants with an addiction to television shows, craft hamburgers, expensive coffee and personality-less interiors on instagram.

But what about all this stuff we’re designing?

So how can we even start to think about an industrial revolution which would require us to care about our homes and interiors again? Most of the internet of things is about ‘smart home’ or ‘smart city’ service product experiences that feature someone stable, in the 1950s, who will always live in their home.  Someone who knows their neighbours, and organises PTA meetings. Someone uses that fridge’s screen to check the weather and the news. Someone who doesn’t have flatmates because they are too poor to live on their own. Someone who is going to care about the napkins matching the plates. Someone who is going to buy fabric napkins in the first place. Someone who doesn’t exist anymore.

Even Ikea’s Steve Howard says we’ve reached peak stuff, peak home furnishings. Because those things have lost their appeal for us. We’re bored of them, things are much more important online even if that’s not true, it feels true.

Where can design go now?

It’s not true because where we have peaked is in the pointless stuff. We have yet to design the stuff that matters actually. The stuff that is going to permeate our lives soon. We still haven’t seen or thought about the products we’ll need to buy to see if our water is clean, our air is breathable, our family safe and healthy. We still haven’t designed the interactions that will convince our governments that these are important issues and policies need to change. We’ve not even begun to think about how we will deal with the disposal of all the stuff that we’ve decided to through away because we’re reading Marie Kondo. Those are the products and interactions that are going to be really worth designing.

Those companies of course already exist but they don’t do well, they barely exist on the fringes of what you might call success, mostly because designers don’t get involved or they don’t show up to help. It’s too hard, too techy. But that’s precisely why it’s interesting. Why it’s worth doing. Why it’s worth coming out of your comfort zone, why being a designer should be not only about doing total design, both online and offline. The world is changing and you have to change with it too.

 

The End of Ignorance

This is a transcript of my talk for Webstock ’16.

I’ve been thinking about where the internet of things sits in the grand scheme of the human experience and I’ve come to some conclusions I’d like to share with you.

  1. On ignorance

The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware and is often used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts. Ignoramus is commonly used in the UK, Ireland, and the US as a term for someone who is willfully ignorant.

Wikipedia

It’s fair to say that we are ignorant of the conditions that surround us. Moreover we are ‘willfully’ ignorant.

We walk down the road and don’t know what is the quality of the air we breath, we don’t know what’s in our water, we don’t know what’s in our food and whether it’s good for us or not. We don’t know where the things that surround us come from and we don’t know who was hurt in that process. We don’t know how much our energy consumption and expense compares to our neighbours, we don’t know how much waste we are producing compared to a similar sized home.

We barely have access to information available that we can digest (what’s a KWh or a calorie anyway) but mostly we know nothing.

Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

We are not invited to know, to discover, to learn because much of the information is being collated, then maintained by private companies. The information we are given back doesn’t allow us to make decisions in any other way than on an individual basis, making the opportunity for collective change almost non-existent. We think that this is a form of respect of our private lives, but in fact it is also a way for us to avoid knowing, discovering and learning collectively. To learn from each other. And being prevented from accessing and developing knowledge prevents us from taking action, capitalism’s ultimate weapon.

Let’s assume this is because we are weak, we are self-absorbed and we lack enough technical literacy to care about all this. What would someone else do?

Let’s imagine Margaret. Margaret is a little girl of 6 and is growing up in the future. She learnt how to code at the same time as learning how to read and write. She was playing with Cubetto and Prelibri when she was a toddler. She got her first Arduino Junior at age 5 and was making small responsive objects out of cardboard. She really wanted to be a vet so use to measure the pulse and temperature  of her cat and dog with a cardboard wearable she made. She learnt to see sensors and technology as just another thing in her world.

She used to tell her parents off about wasting food and used to show them the online facebook data log for her street, showing them how the other kids in the street would recycle more. Every morning she would check the barometer and air quality sensor next to the door to take her face-mask or umbrella accordingly. If the NO2 levels got bad enough on her street and more than 30% of doors were showing the same-ish results this would auto-file an e-petition to her local government to reduce traffic in her local area on health and safety grounds.

She used public transport on her own when she turned 12 and had a GPS-enabled backpack. If she ever felt unsafe or was being bullied, she quickly pulled a string and her bag would send a notification to any open tv screen that belonged to a ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ family along the street she was on. The ID of the phones nearest the bag and a 5 minute audio recording was also logged by the police and saved to their ‘minor incidents’ database. This made her parents feel better about her growing up so quickly.

When she went to high school, she got involved in the volleyball team. She had a bit of asthma so still had an old school Casio watch to keep an eye on how much  stretching she was doing before playing a game. Whenever she had an asthma attack, her pump would log its use and contribute to global research on the incidence and conditions of asthma.  In the changing rooms at school, all the showers were on a timer which helped her understand how much more was being used at home.

Her parents had co-invested with the neighbours to set up a collective PV solar cell on the roof and the energy gathered was split across the 3 flats across the day. This is something they could all check on the go or at home too so they knew when their home had run out of renewable energy and they had to buy some from the local network and the national grid.

Some neighbours have started develop little urban farms. They monitor the soil and have started a local ‘low carbon food’ coop that collects their food and sells them to the people in the neighbourhood, arranging for delivery by bike locally too.

Now Margaret doesn’t exist of course, but the world she lives in almost does. Her expectations of the world around her are different to our and her family and community are a bit different to those of high density urban areas. Mostly, she knows things about her world. She isn’t willfully ignorant. How do we build a world that gets a little closer to hers?

  • We stop considering technology (software and hardware) as an add-on in our children’s education.
  • We pressure our local councils to hire CTOs who have web experience.
  • We don’t just stop at our cities building data dumps (I mean stores) but we pressure them to build applications for it.
  • Government grants should be available for social and civic applications using cheap hardware and that same data.
  • Develop policies that enable scientific research to easily benefit from distributed connected hardware.
  • Force public infrastructural services to have APIs so that others can build better collective communication tools for the information they hold.
  • We look to connect the things around us that we care about, not just each other.
  • We learn how to really collaborate and act locally while thinking about global trends and impact. Being care-ful.

If some of these conditions are met in the near future we may find that we have entered the Age of Knowledge and Action. We will gently brush aside the Information Age and decide that not knowing is simply not good enough. The technologies we have developed should allow us to do all of this easily, but really our actions and attitudes will need to change forever. And that’s a good thing.

End of year review

Thanks to Prof. Dr. Molly Steenson for initiating this habit, this is the 9th year I’ve done these reviews.

1.What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Went back home five times.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
What New Year’s Resolutions

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, my adoptive dad two weeks ago.

5. What countries did you visit?
Morocco, France, Ireland, Canada, US, Germany, Luxembourg, Singapore, New Zealand, Sweden.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
More time at home.

7. What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory?
December 18th.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Shipping the Good Night Lamp.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not spending much time at home.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A drone for my dad’s last weeks.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Parisians.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Most politicians.

14. Where did most of your money go?
The Good Night Lamp and flights (again)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Shipping the Good Night Lamp!

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2013?
The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
More tired.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing, and reading books.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Travelling.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With family in Canada.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
F.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Already in love.

23. What was your favourite TV programme?
I don’t watch TV.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Mr Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Lord Huron, J.D. McPherson, Sufjan Stevens

28. What did you want and get?
Lots of time with F.

29. What did you want and not get?
More time with F.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
Drive, St Elmo’s Fire (I never watch films when I’m supposed to)

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Spent it with family, wrapping Christmas presents.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Less travel.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
Grown up.

34. What kept you sane?
Conversations with J.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
No time for that.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Syria (3rd year in a row) and the Brexit.

37. Who did you miss?
M + M (every year)

38. Who was the best new person you met?
S + W in Singapore.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
Keep your family close.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

“Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile”